Growing up, I was never much of an archer. Truth be told, I think my first shot went into the ground three feet in front of me. The second shot went sideways, some place unknown. These memories come back every year when I’ve taken a little time off the range. But shooting a bow is something unlike a bicycle; you do forget how to do it if you don’t practice. At least your body forgets how. Archery is a matter of muscle memory, like most other forms of shooting. I remember once reading an article the great Ted Williams wrote (or at least dictated) about how swinging a bat was a lot like shooting, it was all about training muscles to behave exactly the same way every time. If you don’t depend on muscle memory, it’s like every time is your first time at bat.
And maybe that’s what it’s like for you in the fall. It’s a story I hear every year; a guy works like mad to get his gear together and his stand hung in anticipation of the opening of deer bow season. He gets up early, has a gorgeous buck walk right beneath him, and shoots a fine forty dollar broad head into the woods, yards from his intended target. After that, he decides it’s time to go to the range and get a little practice. If only he had gone to the range before the season began, he’d have venison on the table and bragging rights in the field. Instead he has a story to tell to other guys on the practice range, all who have similar stories, “The one that got away!”
Chances are he’s finding the range crowded and the learning curve a lot sharper than he had hoped. If he’d only stayed in practice during the off season, he’d find it a lot easier to get back in the game. Hitting the range in the off season has a lot of unanticipated advantages too. It’s good exercise, you see a lot of more wildlife and can do some scouting, and you have room to experiment a little without looking like a fool in front everyone on a crowded range
A lot of archers use the off season as a time to experiment, and that’s a lot better than doing it from the tree stand. Screw on those new hotshot broad heads that are so much better than the ones Fred Bear, your grandpa and I have been using to bring down deer for a hundred years. Mount a new laser range finder to your bow so you don’t have to estimate distance and have one less excuse for shooting over the buck’s back. Try every gadget you saw on TV, but when you’re out of money and have the set-up you’re going to take to the woods this fall, quit monkeying with things and get on the range for some real practice.
As in all things, practice really does make perfect and you have to do it exactly the same way each time. If you feel like you can shoot the bulls eye in your sleep, that’s about right. Make sure your stance is the same each time. Don’t try some extremely broad karate stance if you know you’ll be hunting from a two foot platform in a tree where you’ll have to do it differently. Make your draw the same way every time. If you hunt from a pop-up blind, remember that you’ll be confined and not able to make a big swing of the bow without hitting the sides and scaring the deer off. Same gear, same stance, nock, draw, anchor point, aim, hold, release and same follow through. The army gave me a little saying I’ve adapted to hunting, “Hunt like you train, train like you hunt.” You don’t want to have to reinvent yourself every fall, and you really don’t want to be risking something new when there’s venison on your pin. Do what you practiced and it will all come naturally.
One of the chief complaints bow hunters (and target archers for that matter) have is the lack of places close to home where they can get in practice. The best kept secret is the public ranges at Spencer Lake State Wildlife Area in Medina County (It’s Free!). Extremely well maintained, there are a dozen shooting points on the level range at varying distances. Cross the road and there’s a 21 point field range that challenges the shooter through differing terrain, angles and distance to offer a little more challenge and realism. All the targets are new this spring, enter from the Root Road side of the lake (East) and break your cabin fever. Get Outdoors!